It was a long, slow seven miles from Jerusalem to Emmaus for two disciples on that first day of the resurrection. Cleopas, whom some believe to be the brother of Joseph, Jesus’ uncle so to speak, and another disciple are walking back to their homes. As they walked, they talked about all that had happened the past week. The arrest, the trial, the crucifixion, the burial, the odd news from the women of the open, empty tomb, angels (were there one or two?), the report of Peter and John. But no sight of Jesus.
They had staked their lives on this Jesus from Nazareth. Everything they had. They thought He was the one. A Prophet powerful in word and deed. He made blind men see, the lame to walk, the deaf to hear. He raised the dead. They hoped He was the messiah, the promised One who would redeem Israel. And then in one short week their hopes seemed to come to ruin. Jesus was dead, buried, and now nowhere to be seen.
Disappointment, disillusion, grief, bewilderment, confusion, sadness. What words can describe what goes through your mind as you walk that lonely Emmaus Road? You trusted Jesus and now He seems to have disappeared without a trace. You feel betrayed, used maybe, certainly sad. Rumors don’t provide any comfort. Even reports of a vision of angels rings hollow. It all seems to hang on that little sentence, “But Him they did not see.”
They had to see Jesus. Unless they saw Him, they would not believe. Unless they saw Him, there would be no point in going on. Unless they say Him, all they could do is walk the seven miles back from Jerusalem to Emmaus as the late afternoon sun was setting.
A stranger caught up with them. It was Jesus, but their eyes were kept from recognizing Him. Note that. It wasn’t that they were so caught up in their grief that they didn’t recognize Him. It wasn’t a case of the “eyes made blind by sin.” They were not permitted from recognizing Him. Jesus concealed His identity.
Why? Why play this little game with two grieving disciples? Why not just show yourself, as Jesus did to Mary Magdalene? Jesus is still the Teacher. First, He wants to hear from their own lips what they believe about Him. It’s something like walking into a room where people are talking about you and don’t know that you’re there. What they say to Jesus about Jesus betrays the fact that they do not yet take Him at His word. He said He would die and in three days rise. They’ve been counting the days. They knew it was the third day, and getting late. Yet they did not believe the good news from the women.
Jesus chides Cleopas and the other disciple. “O foolish men and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!” The reason they were sad and moping was that they were being foolish, that is, faithless, with heart slow to believe. It wasn’t their eyes, it was their hearts that were messed up. Hearts weighed down by sin, alienated from God are slow to believe, even when they beat in the chest of a near relative and another close disciple. Our hearts are slow about the things of God, alienated from God, turned away from God and turned inward on self. Our hearts do not naturally believe the promises of God. They must be made new, softened by the Word, enlivened by the Spirit.
“Beginning with Moses and the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.” He taught them the proper way to interpret the Scriptures. Not as a book of rules or an owner’s manual for life. But as God’s revelation of His Son. It doesn’t say exactly what Jesus talked about, but I imagine He talked about the Passover, the Exodus, the sacrifices, Isaiah’s suffering servant, and all the images behind which He had been hiding. It must have been quite the Bible class on that Emmaus Road. The two disciples reported that their hearts were burning, which means they were taking it all in and everything was clicking at lightning speed.
Have you ever had a case of Scripture heartburn? I call it “seeing in primary colors,” everything is so crystal clear, all the pieces come together, you think you’re head is about to explode for joy. That’s the power of the Scriptures when they are read through the death and resurrection of Christ. Jesus had said that the Scriptures were speaking about Him. He speaks through the Scriptures. As the OT dots are connected, and Jesus is revealed as the Lamb of God chosen from eternity to bear the world’s sin in His dying and rising, slow hearts become believing burning hearts.
They still don’t recognize Jesus. Their eyes are still kept from recognizing Him. He wants to teach them so they in turn can teach others. He would not be seen for too much longer. Forty days, to be exact, and then He would ascend in glory and be hidden from their eyes until the Last Day. How would they hear from Him? Where would they go when their hearts were slow and sad? To the Scriptures. To the Word of God.
There’s a popular old Easter hymn by C. Austin Miles back in 1912 that you don’t sing around here for good reason. It’s called “In the Garden.” It has a refrain that goes,And
He walks with me, and He talks with me, And He tells me I am His own; And the joy we share as we tarry there, None other has ever known.
Now I know this isn’t on the cutting edge of contemporary Christian music, but the sentiment is still popular that Jesus walks with us and talks with us as He did with Mary Magdalene in the garden. But the Emmaus road teaches something different. He walks with us and talks with us in the Scriptures. Do you want to have an Emmaus walk with Jesus? Then take and read. Come to the church and hear. Take a stroll through the Scriptures searching for Jesus’ death and resurrection, and your slow, sad hearts will burn too. Save the garden for bird watching.
They came a fork in the road, and Jesus pretended to go in the other direction. Still hiding Himself, still more to give. The two disciples urged Jesus, “Stay with us, it’s almost sundown.” So Jesus went to their house. At supper, He seems to take over the house and make it His own. He takes the bread, gives thanks, breaks it, and begins to distribute it to them. Sound familiar? It should! Echoes of the upper room the week before, the Passover table, the breaking of the bread. “This is my body.”
And then, at that very moment, with the bread, their eyes were finally opened and they recognized Jesus. Just as suddenly, Jesus disappeared from their sight. Poof! He was gone. Curiously, they didn’t ask, “Where did He go?” They didn’t have to ask. They knew where they could find Jesus. It was where He promised to be for them – in the Scriptures and in the Breaking of the Bread. Word and Sacrament, as we Lutherans like to say it.
I hope you can see how the Emmaus Road shaped Christian worship from the earliest centuries. We hear from Christ in the Scriptures; He reveals Himself to us in the Supper. And that’s the point of the Emmaus Road. This in-between time, between Jesus’ resurrection and our resurrection, is not a time for seeing with our eyes but of hearing with our ears the Word and receiving with our mouths the Body and Blood. This is how Jesus walks with us and talks with us and tells us we are his own. The liturgy is our Emmaus Road from death to life, from sorrow to joy, beginning with our death and burial in Baptism, walking the Scripture road with hearts on fire with faith, leading to the table where Jesus is made known to us in the breaking of the bread.
There is a beautiful prayer for Easter evening when our journey on the Emmaus Road comes to its ending:
Abide with us, Lord, for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent.
Abide with us and with Your whole Church.
Abide with us at the end of the day, at the end of our life, at the end of the world.
Abide with us with Your grace and goodness, with your holy Word and Sacrament, with Your strength and blessing.
Abide with us when the night of affliction and temptation comes upon us, the night of fear and despair, the night when death draws near.
Abide with us and with all the faithful, now and forever.
In the name of Jesus,